“Homecoming,” December 10, 2016
Christmas Day, December 25, 2016
Two feasts this month: One was a “homecoming” dinner for our California family. The second was our Christmas Day dinner. Thanksgiving is my Big Deal dinner, but whenever you’re feeding 15-16 people, you necessarily end up whipping up a lot of food. I also didn’t want to do a lot of repetition.
I’m not a cookies and treats guy, so I kept it simple: Peanut butter on crackers, dipped in dark chocolate. Nutter Butters that are supposed to look like reindeer. Pretzel rings with kisses. Plus, for the Dec. 10 meal, a brownie with coconut-pecan frosting that served as a dessert and a birthday cake for our daughter-in-law, Kelsey.
I didn’t worry about putting out as many appetizers for these meals as I did for Thanksgiving. For the Homecoming dinner, I put together a meat and cheese platter and a fresh fruit platter. For Christmas Day, I put fresh fruit in pineapple bowls. For both meals, my son-in-law, Dan, whipped up a little dip of cream cheese, dried beef, and Polish dill pickles. I think it’s an Eastern Iowa thing; it seems like it’s served a lot at funerals and weddings. Our 17-month old grandson, Reggie, found his own crackers, and made his own feast before Grandpa could snap a proper pic of the bowl.
By the way, the weather for these two meals could not have been more different, given the inherent limitations of winter here in the Midwest. For our first meal, it snowed, and then we went into the deep-freeze. Up until that point, we’d had a mild Fall, but of course, as soon as our California family got here, the weather went Arctic on us. Christmas Day was another story. By dinner time, the temperature had hit 52. It rained constantly, and at one point, we even had a little thunderstorm, which was a first around here.
In the soup and salad department, for the Homecoming meal I had two soups: my Mexican Corn Chowder and my Three Bean Chili. I’ve been making both soups for many years. The corn chowder has evolved so much that I’ve forgotten why the original version was called “Mexican,” other than because of the familiar heat it gets from green chiles. And yes, I like my chili thick, not soupy.
For Christmas Day, my son Nick made cranberry fluff again, and I came up with a lettuce salad. I cut up some iceberg and green leaf lettuces chiffonade style, and then topped it with walnuts, and queso fresco, which was supposed to look like snow on the grass, and then topped off each salad with a raspberry and some homemade Cobb-style dressing.
We’d had turkey and ham for Thanksgiving, so I wanted something a little different in the meat department. For the Homecoming dinner, I went with a roasted capon and a pork loin with a black bean sauce on rice. For Christmas, I went with a ribeye roast and a small (9-lb) turkey. Actually, both birds were prepared the same as the turkey at Thanksgiving: a dry brine, followed by a duck fat and butter baste. Both birds turned out very moist and tasty. I intended to let the roast hit about 142, but I accidentally let it get to 150 before I pulled it out. But it was still pretty tender, and had a lot of good flavor.
For our Dec. 10 meal, I went with spaghetti with a homemade sauce. I thought the kids and our vegetarians would appreciate it. For Christmas, I made my Red Beans and Rice (not vegetarian!). I was happy with both the flavor (which I usually get right) and the consistency (which I usually mess up). I also dipped into my stock of Carolina Gold rice. I also roasted baby potatoes with rosemary, and made corn pudding.
I kept the vegetables simple for Dec. 10, and went with a Three Sisters succotash of corn, green beans, and butternut squash. For Christmas, I made Creamed Baby Spinach and Kale, and then roasted carrots with thyme, and roasted a little fennel as well. The roasted vegetables were something of a hit.
For my Christmas desserts, I made pecan and sweet potato pies. Both followed heirloom recipes. The pecan pie followed Callie’s Georgia Pecan Pie. I had run into this recipe on food historian Frederick Douglass Opie’s old blog, who had found it in a Baltimore Sun article from 1949. The sweet potato pie followed a recipe from Donna Battle Pierce. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the proper links back to either recipe.)
Both recipes are exceptional. The pecan pie calls for dark syrup. I cook by the thermometer instead of a toothpick, which takes out the guesswork about whether the pies have set, and also makes it harder to overbake them.
Bottom line: I made a couple of decent meals. With Thanksgiving, that’s three big meals in the span of a month, serving 45 people in total, with a good mix of traditional dishes and new (for us) dishes.